Sunday, 6 July 2008


With the explosion of user generated content, one of the most powerful social forces in the offline world has moved online in a big way. That is word of mouth recommendation. According to Emarketer nearly 7 out of 10 buyers check at least 4 reviews before making a purchase.

With so many user reviews and ratings out there, how does a digital agency help their clients? Can an agency address each new review and rating individually? And what business models best addresses this highly manual activity? And how many people do you need to manage the blogosphere?

The answer in simple terms is 1 person per 150 blogs: Dunbar's Number. Wikipedia defines Dunbar's number as "the supposed cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships: the kind of relationships that go with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person. Proponents assert that group sizes larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion"

With Technorati alone currently tracking 112.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media you can start to see how uneconomical this might become. However, help is at hand from another theoretical idea: Minority Influence. Wikipedia again defines this as "a form of social influence, which takes place when a majority is being influenced to accept the beliefs or behaviours of a minority." In the blogosphere this is made 'easier' by the blogosphere's interconnectedness and mutual linking. This allows the blogosphere to act as a group where views can converted and then amplified in the process of group polarisation.

The image below comes from Matt Hurst’s graphs of links between blogs published in MIT's Technology Review.

The dense mass in the middle is the ‘core’ of the blogosphere, which is about 1,000 popular blogs related to politics, technology, and general news. Smaller communities live outside the core and link into it. Thus you can see how an effective blogger advocacy program can tap into the power of this core and travel virally towards the outside. This interconnectedness means the blogosphere is now starting to act as a single entity. Messages can ripple across its circumference if triggered from the right point.

The future of the digital agency will be centred on this type of community management, as forecasted in Forrester's paper on The Connected Agency. The big question is whether this has scale and whether it can become profitable.

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